Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Betty Helen Cooke McLean

My grandmother left this world around dawn on June 20. My uncle says she went peacefully in her sleep. I'd like to go that way. And thus ends the era of grandparents. She was my last living grandparent and somehow I thought she would last forever. She was the oldest of my grandparents (except for Grandpa Clarke was was 10 years older than my grandma Clarke and died when I was 18) and she had never really been in great health - always something going on. She had had TB, lupus and arthritis and 2 nervous breakdowns. But somehow she just kept going. She was 93 and a half.

I had no internet from Thursday to Monday afternoon. When I finally got back online, I got the news in an e-mail from my uncle. I was just shocked. She was gone. And I can't remember exactly when the last time was that I saw her. I think it was shortly after she moved to the longterm care facility she was in until she died. We took her out for a walk in her wheelchair and she told us horror stories of the other residents lunchtime behaviour and worried about being back in time for lunch. She was always glad to see me and proud to show me and my children off to anyone who would listen. Mostly that first day I was just in shock - feeling nothing, really. I talked to my aunt for about an hour on the phone who cried and I listened.

Then I woke up the next morning feeling like my chest had been cracked open. It was homeschooling waterslide day so I took along my journal. I sat at a table by myself and I wrote and wrote, cried, slid and slept on the grass and wrote some more. My grandma was an introvert. She could seem rather aloof in person but luckily that is not all that I knew from her. She wrote letters to me my whole life until she couldn't write any more. I have more letters from her than from everyone else who ever wrote me put together. In her letters she was warm, witty and shared with me her thoughts and beliefs about politics, religion, my ancestors and the birds at her bird feeder and the flowers blooming in her garden. Some letters are more than 20 pages long, describing family members or some important event. Her descriptions are eloquent.

When I was a child, I named all my cats after her - Betty. I can remember being babysat by her, taken to the library by her. I can remember her reading to me, teaching me to count in French, introducing me to Sesame Street. When I was a teenager she was the first person to talk (write) to me like I was an adult. She took me and my ideas seriously and discussed them with me through the mail. Sometimes seeing her in person was a let down after the intimacy of our letters. But I am so grateful for those letters. Grateful that she shared herself with me, that I know her. I know that she loved me in the best way that she could. When I was distant from my family, she wrote to me still at regular intervals with news of her life. She reached out.

When I lived in Richmond and she lived in her co-op in Richmond, we saw her often. I have a picture of Erin in her red dress sitting on Grandma's red chair from one of those visits. She loved to have pictures. She had an ever-updating collage under a sheet of plexiglass on a bureau in her dining room and on her coffee table.

I carry so much of her with me - my mother's mother. I have her green eyes and share her same fascination for genetics and family history. I am so grateful to be her granddaughter and to have had the privilege of knowing her in this lifetime for almost 45 years. Good-bye Grandma B. She believed there was nothing after death but I have a hard time believing that the essence that was her does not go on. I love you Grandma - did I tell you that enough? Thank you for everything.


Lady of Light said...

Very nice post, Andrea. It sounds like you had a very special relationship with your grandma. Such a thing to be thankful for.

Anonymous said...

Drea, I'm so sorry you lost your grandma. Nothing - not even old age - prepares us for what it feels like to lose grandparents. I love you and have been thinking about you a lot.